Tunisians protest entry of Israeli tourists

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — Dozens of demonstrators protested the entry of Israelis into Tunisia at a rally held on the island of Djerba against normalizing ties with the Jewish state.

The rally, organized by the Awfia Samidoun association, took place Monday in Djerba Midoun, a municipality of the southern island which every spring receives hundreds of Jewish pilgrims, including many Israelis, the news website babnet.net reported.

The sit-in protest was organized days after the Tunisian parliament summoned Tourism Minister Amel Karboul to explain why she is allowing Israelis to enter the country using their Israeli passports.

Last week she said at a news conference that “Tunisia hopes to welcome thousands of Jewish tourists to the pilgrimage of Ghriba. This would strengthen Tunisia’s image abroad as a tolerant country that is open to all religions.”

The Hilula of Ghriba – a feast which features a festive procession on or near Lag B’Omer – brings hundreds of Jews to Tunisia every year. Their procession traditionally ends at the El Ghriba synagogue, a 19th century building which is among Africa’s oldest existing synagogues.

At the protest rally, Awfia Samidoun President Abdelwaheb Mahdhi said that “it is perplexing that the Tunisian government should link the Ghriba pilgrimage to the success of the touristic season.

Last year, Awfia Samidoun and other members of Tunsia’s Anti-Zionist Collective – an anti-Israeli umbrella group — held a protest rally in which they urged the government to include a clause that criminalizes ties with Israel in the constitution.

The Echaab movement, a nationalist secular party, also participated in the sit-in, Babnet.net reported. The head of its local office in Djerba, Mohamed Bouzidi, reportedly said that anti-Zionism “does not rule out peaceful coexistence with the Jews.”

Tunisia used to have 110,000 Jews before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, according to the European Jewish congress. Today, approximately 1,000 Jews live in Djerba and another 700 Jews live elsewhere in Tunisia.

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